My message to all that will hear it, is don’t let your limitations define you… Don’t focus on what you don’t have…use what you do have.
~Victoria Arlen

An excellent student and natural athlete, Victoria dreamed of becoming an Olympic swimmer from the time she was 5 years old. She trained and swam and attained regional ranking. She was on her way.

At 11, when she came down with a mysterious illness, all of that changed. She lost her ability to function in even the most basic ways, including the use of her legs. By all reports, she existed in a vegetative state for two years and nearly died before her doctors diagnosed her condition as transverse myelitis, a rare spinal disease, and began to turn things around.

Positive Focus

Her recovery was long and difficult. She was left paralyzed from the waist down and had to re-learn how to move, talk, eat and think. Without her legs, she was now afraid of the water. But she was still an athlete, and gradually, through physical therapy, found her way back to the pool.

With the encouragement of family and friends who urged her to press on, she was introduced to sports for the disabled and a competitive swim coach, John Ogden from Beverly, MA, who helped her to focus on what she could do instead of what she couldn't.

Victoria began to train again, doing double practice sessions and making up for lost time. At school, she made up five years of studies in less than two terms and was inducted into the National Honor Society.

In the pool, after 18 months of swimming with her new body, she competed in the Paralympics Time Trials in Bismarck, N.D. and won the 100-meter and 400-meter free-style events, breaking both world records and winning a place on Paralympics Team USA. She is competing in London this week.

Overcoming Obstacles

I am of course drawn to Victoria's story. If you’ve read my book, Unlikely Teachers: Finding the Hidden Gifts in Daily Conflict, you know that my Aunt Mary contracted the same disease--transverse myelitis--at age 13, and overcame it with similar will and effort. But I’m always drawn to stories about people overcoming huge obstacles. I think we all are.

Obstacles are obstacles-whether it’s a wheelchair or any other circumstance that stands between you and your dream. ~ Victoria Arlen

We all have obstacles in our lives. Maybe they’re not as obvious as Victoria’s, but each of us wakes up each morning with something that we see as difficult--a physical or mental problem that weighs us down. The difference is that people like Victoria show us how miniscule most of our obstacles are. They use whatever they are given to inspire them to greatness.

Face it. Embrace it. Defy it. Conquer it.

Victoria's motto. The embodiment of Aikido, she turns her “problem” into a gift. Somewhere along the line, she decided not to let the attack define her. She's in charge because she chooses to be.

"Limitations can only define you if you let them."
-- Victoria Arlen

Author's Bio: 

Judy Ringer is the author of Unlikely Teachers: Finding the Hidden Gifts in Daily Conflict. She provides conflict, communication, and presentations skills training throughout North America with unique workshops based on mind/body principles from the martial art Aikido, in which she holds a second degree black belt. Employing best practice communication models, Judy brings to life key concepts such as self-management under pressure and appreciation of other viewpoints. Her programs are interactive, experiential and energetic.

A presenter at the 18th and 19th Annual Pegasus Conferences, Judy has written numerous articles on the relevance and application of the Aikido metaphor, including articles in The Systems Thinker and Aikido Today Magazine. She is also the author of two CDs, Managing Conflict in the Workplace: An Aiki Approach, and Simple Gifts: Making the Most of Life's Ki Moments, as well as the award-winning newsletter, Ki Moments.

Clients include the National Institutes of Health, BAE Systems, Sony Corporation, Honda of America Manufacturing, Frito-Lay, Bose Corporation, TDBanknorth, Pearson Publishing, Maine Medical Center, Maine General Health, The Wharton Graduate Leadership Program, The National Education Association, and the States of New Hampshire and Vermont.

Judy is founder of Portsmouth Aikido and sole owner of Power & Presence Training, in Portsmouth, NH.